To make your mark on the world of realist bird art you must be accepted into the global phenomenon called “Birds in Art”. This huge American art competition is held annually at the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Museum in Wasau, Wisconsin, USA. On average 800 entries are received, of which only 80 are selected for showing.
The lead up to entering an exhibition like this can take 12 months. What to paint? How to get it to the US? Is size going to matter given it has to be shipped to the States – is a small piece going to be a disadvantage? Do I need someone over there to represent me or can I do that myself from Australia? And how much is that going to cost? Plus the real biggie: it’s in the depths of a Wisconsin fall – how to cope with all that gorgeous autumn colour? Knowing it’s only for the fame and not the fortune is a bummer too – you don’t enter this to make or win money, it’s to show the world you exist and might just have some talent….There is no prize money involved, but once you get yourself over there they take care of much of the expense. Despite all this, every serious bird artist desperately wants to be accepted as a finalist at least once in their career.
I first entered in 1999 with a picture of pheasants – not the gaudy ones, just two little grey jobs called francolins – about as plain as you can get. So with fingers crossed and the bank balance getting increasingly nervous I organised to get my masterpiece to the other side of the world. It was an anxious wait to hear whether I had made the grade. Although I had been painting since I was 12 and had won some national and international awards, you never quite know what the judges are looking for and whether you had entered the right piece. That’s the issue with art of any form – it’s a subjective judgement. Ask Rembrandt – he only started selling his work just before he died! Personally, I have always preferred the path of “being discovered while living”.
And with my first attempt I made the cut! Was I chuffed and wasn’t I glad I made the trip across to be there! Since then I have been a finalist a further 6 times and was purchased for their permanent collection in 2002. So now I am once again thinking about what to enter and when….it’s been a couple of years since I entered – perhaps I’ll try again this year?
Okay, so I did enter this year, and yes my picture of Crested Terns on Lady Elliot Island did get selected. The email came through last week so Nicky and I are dusting off the passports and will be enjoying a week of catching up with old art friends in the wilds of Wisconsin in September. Indeed one of the real joys of being in "Birds in Art" for artists like myself stranded in the colonies is to share time with other passionate bird artists.While I am in contact with 100s of Facebook art friends from around the world, to just spend time with them face-to-face is a real privilege, and for me the absolute highlight of being a "Birds in Art" finalist.